Kids ASK! about Science and Technology
The Internet has changed the way we do things—it has become so much a part of our lives that it is nearly impossible to imagine living without it. But tell me, have you ever wondered how the Internet came about? Sure, you have read about the invention of computers but how about the Internet specifically, what inspired it and when did it become reality?
I picked up this question from a fellow librarian (Chee Boon – you can read about him here) and remembered a dusty article I had from a long time ago (ok not that long – 4 years) about the history of the Internet. After some sneezes and digging through piles of information, I found what I was looking for… Here is the story of what we call the Internet.
The Internet is a product of war technology, more specifically, nuclear war. In the early 1960s, the U.S. authorities were worried that in the event of a nuclear war, the various command posts in the various cities will lose their ability to communicate as switches and wiring can and will likely be damaged by atomic bombs. They would need a command-and-control center that can withstand the atomic bomb and had no specific location so that it cannot be targeted. It was a strategic problem.
That was when RAND Corporation (America’s Cold War think-tank) came up with a proposal, the brainchild of one of its staff, Paul Baran. The year is 1964. The proposal is to have a network that is inherently unreliable. The network will have multiple nodes that have the exact same ability to be a beginning or an end point for the transmitting and receiving of messages. The messages themselves are made up of many packets and each packet will find its way through the network to the end point it is addressed to. The route taken by the packet is inconsequential. What matters is the final destination. Having such a system means that even if pieces of the network is destroyed by a bomb, the message packets in the air will still find its way to its destination with whatever nodes that are left.
In 1969, the first node was installed in UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and by the end of the year there were 4 nodes in total. The first version of the Internet was formed and it was called ARPANET.
It was good. Scientists could share one another’s notes and soon enough, it became an electronic post office. So much for military technology… ARPANET was used for exchanging research, for chatting and even gossiping. The first mailing list had nothing to do with the military, it was, “SF-LOVERS”.
Through the 70s, the network grew and grew. The message packets switching system also became streamlined and more sophisticated. Eventually, for reasons of control and security, the military segment broke off and became MILNET. The technology was replicated and ARPANET became one network of many though they were all linked. As the 80s came, computers became more common and there was nothing to stop people from linking up to one another as the very nature of such a network system is anarchic and decentralised.
ARPANET died officially in 1989, consumed by its own success, taken over by what we now know as the Internet. The rest, they say, is history.
Sterling, B. (Feb 1993). Short History of the Internet. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
If you want to read more about the Internet, here are books you can check out at our libraries.
Computers then and now by Rebecca Weber
Publisher: Minneapolis, Minn. : Compass Point Books, c2005
Call Number: J English 004 WEB
The incredible story of computers and the Internet by Greg Roza
Publisher: New York : Rosen Pub. Group’s PowerKids Press, 2004
Call Number: J English 004.67 ROZ
The computer : passport to the digital age by Joanne Mattern
Publisher: New York : PowerKids Press, c2003
Call Number: J English 004 MAT
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For the availability of the above book titles, please check the library catalogue.
Answered by Felicia Chan,
Librarian, Children’s Services